LIFE GOES ON

I am discovering the reality of something that I actually knew but am being forced to see I a new light. I am a pastor, someone whose job involves me in people’s lives at some of their worst times, as well as a few of the best times. When I am helping someone deal with the sudden death of a close relative, the unexpected cancer diagnosis, the marriage break up, the collapse of a life plan, I tend to be focused and pastoral—my calling and my personality and my faith are all focused on trying to provide whatever I can provide to help people cope.

I know that during the times I am not present, people still cope—true, some cope well and some cope poorly but they cope. When they talk to me, especially if they have requested the session, they talk and act as if the issue under discussion were the only thing in their lives. When we are done talking, well, then they go back to cooking meals and shoveling driveways and watching TV and bragging about grandchildren. (Remember, I live and work in an area of Canada with one of the highest average ages in the country.)

When we are together, the issue is front and centre and both the focus and the purpose of our session. When it is done, we both go back to whatever occupies us until the next time. Because I have multiple sessions with many people, I tend not to give too much thought to the rest of the person’s life beyond the issue. I know that they wash dishes and drink coffee but mostly, I don’t much think about their lives beyond the issue unless I see them outside of a session, which does happen quite often in our rural context.

But I see that differently these days. I need surgery soon—while it is fairly serious surgery, it is necessary to prevent some even more serious stuff. I have been letting people know that it is coming so that they can make other arrangements or recognize that our present arrangements may have to be put on hold a bit. Recently, for example, I told one of the Bible study groups that we had some breaks coming up—one because of a previously planned vacation week and the other because of an upcoming surgery.

The group wanted as many details of the surgery as I was able and willing to give; they expressed concern and promises of prayers; they assured me that I was making a wise decision. After that discussion, we began our Bible study, which followed the accepted and habitual pattern—I prayed, asked a question and we chased rabbits and opened topics and had a good time sharing our faith response to life. My impending surgery was there but we had another focus and we stuck with the study.

I am sure if the news I gave them was of my impending demise, things would probably have been different. But the surgery, although serious, isn’t likely to be fatal. I am concerned and they are concerned—but none of us really want to spend all the time up to the surgery worrying and fretting and discussing the coming surgery. We have stuff to do—we need to see if it is actually possible to finish a verse or two in our Bible study or we need to deal with the question that has been nagging one of the members since last Sunday or we need to theologize about the news headline we are all concerned about.

In short, life goes on. No matter what the issue or bump in the road, life needs to go on. Unless the bump or issue is immediately fatal, life goes on. And even when it is fatal for one person, life still has to go on for everyone else. Or, rather, it needs to go on. There are some people who can’t seem to keep their life moving when stuff hits the fan—but that is why God has called and gifted pastors and counsellors and therapists.

He seeks to work through these support personnel so that those who can’t find a way to have life go on can find the help they need to carry on. I know all that—but every now and then, it is good to see things from a different perspective.

May the peace of God be with you.

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DAVID THE BLOGGER

The worship service at one of the churches I serve has a unique addition to the order. Right after I read the Scriptures, the congregation has an opportunity to ask questions or make comments. This came about as a result of a suggestion by one of the members and has become a highlight of the worship for both pastor and congregation. While there are occasional Sundays where nobody has a question or comment, there are generally some interesting comments and questions—and several times a year, the ensuing discussion become so interesting and valuable that we never actually get to the sermon, which means I am prepared for another Sunday.

Recently, the Scriptures came from Isaiah and Mark. Both passages prompted some comments and we batted them around for awhile. And then, one of the congregants had a question about the responsive reading that we had used earlier in the worship. It was a legitimate question because the reading was Scripture, a reading from Psalm 27.

The question concerned the author of the Psalm. The question and discussion focused on David rather than the Psalm itself. We re-established the fact that David wrote many of the Psalms but not all of them and then the discussion began to look at the character of the writing. The questioner wanted to know a couple of things:

• Can we figure out what David was doing at the time he wrote each Psalm?
• Why are the Psalms so different from other parts of the Bible, like the Gospels for example?

The first question was relatively easy to deal with. Some Psalms identify the circumstances of the writing either in an explanatory note at the beginning or be the content. The second question was more interesting, at least for me. David’s writings are different from the Gospels or the Epistles or the History books partly because David was a poet whose response to the realities and events of his life drove him to record his thoughts and feelings. He wasn’t writing history, biography, theology, explanations, or apologetics. David was writing his feelings.

The best explanation of the difference I could offer was to suggest that if David had been alive today, he would have been a blogger. I don’t read a lot of blogs but many of the ones I do seem to be focused in the writer’s response to their life and the realities they see and experience. Certainly there are the factual blogs, the history blogs, the informative blogs—but there are also a uncounted number of blogs that deal with the writer’s feelings and responses. Even this blog has a strong element of that, although I will never be accused of being a poet.

David used his poetry to help himself deal with his life—and given that his life had a significant number of highs and lows, he had a lot to deal with. In his day, his audience would have been limited to people in the royal court and the temple. But somehow, through the grace of God, some of his poetry was recorded and made available not just to the people of his day but also to people of all time. David probably holds the record for the all time highest number of views—and likes, for that matter.

While it is interesting to speculate how well David would have done as a 21st century blogger, there is no need to actually speculate on his ability to connect with people. His words, written over 2500 years ago in a small, somewhat backwater country in a language that most of us don’t speak manage to cut across time, language and culture and touch something within us that shouts that he got it—he understands. We read his blog, we are touched by the words and ideas and emotions, we react—and most of the time, we are helped. The poetry from the past enables us to deal better with our life in this very different present. And, given the track record, if the world lasts another 2500 years, or 25,000 or 250,000 more years, people are still going to read the Psalms and be touched and changed and helped.

That is pretty good for a 2500+ year old poet who was just trying to make sense of his life using his propensity towards poetry. Most of the rest of us: bloggers, preachers, writers, even poets can only dream of writing something so significant.

May the peace of God be with you.

THE OTHER SIDE

I need some surgery sometime in the near future. While it is fairly serious surgery, it is important because it will prevent even more serious stuff down the road. After thought and prayer and some consultation, it just makes sense to me to go ahead with the process.

However, committing to that process also commits me to another process, one that I am normally involved with on the other side. I need to inform and involve my church people. Normally, I am the one church people inform and involve—they want my prayers, my pastoral concern, my connection with God. I am happy to be involved in their process. My giftedness, my calling and my temperament enables me to support them and do what I can to help them through the process. Most of the people I have provided pastoral care for through their process have seemed to be appreciative.

But approaching the whole thing from the other side—well, that is and has been and will be a huge shift for me. I haven’t actually had to deal with medical issues in my ministry. The only time I have been hospitalized was for kidney stones and that occurred between public ministry activities and so I didn’t miss anything. For this surgery, I will be out for at least a month, which means that I have to tell people so they can make arrangements.

My introverted inclination was to simply forget about telling people and have my wife call the deacons the day of surgery and tell them I won’t be there for a while. Aside from the fact that my wife simply wouldn’t assist my fantasy, that really wouldn’t be a very good way to deal with things.

I teach, preach and encourage Christian community and sharing. I seek to have people involved with each other as an expression of their faith. I want people to know that faith needs to involve us with other people so that we can both give and receive the love and grace of God through each other. For me to follow my introverted fantasy process would be hypocritical at best and ministry destroying at worst.

So, pushing the all too tempting fantasy out of my mind, I set about informing people. I had a meeting scheduled with the church leadership before I knew about the surgery so that became the first place to announce what was coming. I didn’t swear them to secrecy and released them to tell others in the church what was coming. I think I was secretly hoping that the message would quickly travel through the church the way most things do.

That didn’t happen, or it didn’t happen the way I wanted or as fast as I wanted. I faced a congregation on Sunday made up of people who knew and people who didn’t. Since the surgery is coming soon but not that soon, I chose not to make an announcement from the pulpit—that will come when I know dates and so on. But I did find myself telling individuals as the opportunity arose during the potluck that followed the worship.

I have spent most of my life on the other side of this part of ministry and now I have to learn how to receive what I have been giving. I could continue the role of pastor and say that it is good for the church to learn how to minister to the pastor—and that is a good thing. But the deeper reality is that I need to learn more about how to be ministered to. I haven’t done that well over the years. Being an introvert means that I tend to keep to myself and be somewhat self-sufficient. I have had times when others have ministered to me and they have been very important and valuable—but overall, I am much more comfortable providing the ministry.

So, the coming surgery will not only take care of a medical problem but will be another step in the more significant learning process that is helping an introvert who encourages community to experience the fullness of Christian community. I really do want and value the prayers and concerns and support of my Christian community—I just don’t like telling people that I need their prayers and concerns and support. Like all of us, I have a lot to learn about the fullness of my faith.

May the peace of God be with you.